Document Sample
					               IRELAND – PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE


It is commonplace to read news reports of killings on the streets of Ulster. The media
present the bombs and the barricades, the internment camps and the rubber bullets as
unfortunate hiccups which can be overcome by sensible politicians applying their
thoughtful solutions. But there can be no solution to 'The Irish Problem' as long as it is
regarded as such. There is nothing particularly Irish about it. The poverty which forms
the material basis of discrimination and fratricidal strife is inevitable in the framework
of the present social system - capitalism. Under capitalism, production takes place not
with a view to satisfying the needs of wage and salary earners - the working class -
but to serve the profit requirements of a minority class who own and control the
means by which wealth is produced. It is the problems arising from this situation
which face workers in Ireland today just as they face workers throughout the world.

But while the basic problems are the same throughout the world (even in the so-called
'communist' countries where capitalism functions through the medium of the State),
the contradictions of the system manifest themselves differently and in varying
degrees of viciousness according to historical, political and economic conditions
obtaining in different areas.

It is to capitalism then, as it developed in the historical circumstances peculiar to
Ireland, that we must look for an explanation of the problems of today.

                                                  The Socialist Party of Great Britain
                                                                           April 1983


1. The Origins of Sectarianism
2. The Roots of Nationalism
3. Partition and the Consequences
4. Civil Rights and Political Violence
5. Socialism
1 The origins of sectarianism


The Plantation of Ulster in the seventeenth century resulted in the native Gaels, who
were Catholics, being dispossessed of their lands by the incoming planters who were
largely, but not exclusively, Protestant, The Plantation itself was undertaken by the
English government as part of its defensive strategy and to advance its political and
economic aims in Ireland. Both planter and native were undistinguished pawns in the

The conflict of interest between the planters and those they dispossessed would have
occurred even if both parties had belonged to the same religious faith. But the fact that
the opposing sides in what was essentially an economic conflict differed also in
religious beliefs inevitably became identified with the ensuing struggle. Catholic and
Protestant became labels associated with victories in battle, killings and persecutions:
labels that buried the profane self-interest of the contending parties in a struggle over
land under the emotion and fanaticism that religious superstition can imbue in its

The politics of religion had been introduced; the circumstances that had produced it
would also bring about conditions that would ensure its permanence as a useful
instrument in the hands of the landlords and, later, the capitalist class. Down the
centuries it would protect the exploiters, Catholic and Protestant, from the dangers of
unity among those, Catholic and Protestant, whom they would exploit.

Following the Plantation, the anger of the dispossessed natives festered on ignominy
and privation and they rose up in a vain attempt to drive out the planters. Given the
anger and frustration of the natives and the fear and insecurity of those who had
dispossessed them, together with the nature of the disorganised violence, the short
conflict and the reaction it provoked were marked by atrocities that became even
grimmer in the telling. Again the struggle was about land; but the contending parties
were Protestants and Catholics. It was this fact that would be woven into the folk
memory of death and atrocity and feed the legend that would help to shape the future
history of Ireland.


Outside Ulster, the miseries of the great mass of the Irish people continued throughout
the seventeenth century.

The Civil War in England between the emerging capitalist class and the landed
aristocracy overspilled into Ireland. In 1649 the victorious Cromwell arrived to deal
with the last bastion of royalist support and 'settle the Irish problem' in an orgy of
bloodletting, transportation into slavery and forced eviction of the Catholic
landowners of the east and south to the barren west of the country.

It is arguable that the Cromwellian settlement was harsher in the rest of Ireland than
the Plantation was in Ulster. Certainly it was attended by more bloodshed. Unlike the
Ulster Plantation, however, where the new landowners brought in thousands of their
own tenants, the Cromwellian Settlement parcelled out the land to absentee English
landlords. As for the Cromwellian soldiery who were granted land, they were too thin
on the ground not to require the cooperation and labour of the natives – thus thwarting
the Cromwellian aspiration to drive the Irish 'to hell or Connaught'.

Nevertheless, the Cromwellian settlement did establish the basis of the social system
that was to last into the late nineteenth century. Most of the land was to become the
private property of English landlords - who were Protestants. Largely absent and
uncaring, they exploited their new found property through the medium of middle men
– sometimes Irish and Catholic -who, in turn, let the land in small parcels to the
natives under conditions that guaranteed their absolute poverty and allowed them no
security of tenure or other interest in the property they worked. They were tenants-at-
will who contributed their labour to the working of their masters' lands. If they were
unable to pay the arbitrarily fixed rents the middle men determined, they were evicted.


When King James II, a convert to Catholicism, fled to Ireland after the English
parliament had replaced him in 1688 with William Prince of Orange for trying to
usurp its authority, he sought the assistance of King Louis XIV of France. But Louis
had earlier marched on Rome and humiliated Pope Innocent XI. The Pope had then,
with William of Orange and other European monarchs entered into the Treaty of
Augsburg to defeat Louis.

When James arrived in Ireland, the Catholic ex-landowners there, notwithstanding his
association with Louis the arch enemy of the Pope, allied themselves to James in the
hope that, by helping him to victory over the English parliament's newly appointed
King William, he would restore their lands and privileges.

Again Ireland became the cockpit of a struggle for power between contending forces
in England. The struggle between James's forces and those of King 'Billy', though it
was not a military clash between opposing religious forces, found identity in the
opposing religious beliefs of James and William. Despite the fact that history attests
to what Catholics and Protestants would traditionally regard as the utter 'moral'
depravity of both men, the legend makers - the fakirs who use history, suitably
distorted, to ensure the continuing confusion of the subject class - would fabricate
slogans of bigotry from the sordid bloodletting of King Billy and his worthless father-
in-law, King James.

Catholic James was the trusted ally of Louis, the Pope's bitterest enemy; the army of
King William which defeated James at the battle of the Boyne was equipped by the
participants in the Treaty of Augsburg, including the Pope - who celebrated King
Billy's victory over James with the singing of a Te Deum. James, for reasons of self-
interest, enshrined the religious liberty of Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters in the
Treaty of Limerick.

At the same time King Billy established the Episcopalian Church, proscribing both
Catholicism and Presbyterianism. Yet, ironically, he is the political patron saint of
thousands of Presbyterian Orangemen who annually revere him as their deliverer from
Popery. The 'civil and religious liberty' that William is alleged to have won meant
discrimination against Presbyterians as well as against Catholics and, by 1691, had
forced a quarter of a million Presbyterians to seek refuge in America where they were
to play a distinctive part in overthrowing English colonialism.
It would be difficult to find a more blatant example of a subject people being
manipulated by leaders and their lying propaganda. At the time it led to the poor
butchering the poor in the interests of their masters. Today the fictions of 1690 still
move thousands of working class Protestants, whose political knowledge has been
deliberately fashioned into the slogan 'To hell with the Pope', into the belief that their
poverty, their slums, their mean living on low wages or miserable dole is somehow
threatened by their working class brethren who are Catholics -equally miserable,
equally deceived.

2. The roots of nationalism


The Protestant planters of Ulster did not accept the miserable conditions of life
endured by the native peasantry in the rest of the country .They were not a defeated
people; they had not come to Ireland to endure conditions worse than they had left
behind in their homeland. Many of them had skills like spinning and weaving and a
reasonable standard of literacy; and, generally, they represented a more determined
and articulate opposition to the pressures of their Protestant landlords than did the
demoralised Irish. They demanded leases for their farms at fixed rents and the right to
sell such leases and so profit from the improvements they had made to their lands and

Apart from their skill and determination in pressing their demands, the planters had at
their disposal a weapon that the natives did not possess: the government's Plantation
strategy was dependent on the planters remaining in Ireland. Their masters had to
concede their demands and, while these concessions did not receive the force of
legislative enactment, they did, under what became known as Ulster Custom,
effectively give the Ulster planters security of tenure at fixed rents and the right to
convey their leaseholds.

Under the relative protection of Ulster Custom the settlers were enabled to develop
their lands and homesteads and increase their productivity without the fear that any
improvement in their fortunes would be appropriated by rack-renting landlords and
their agents. It was not all sweetness and light of course: the landlords tried, often
successfully, to circumvent the Custom and did not disdain to use the threat and
actuality of the land-hungry Catholics against their tenants and co-religionists.

Nevertheless, as they developed their lands the settlers were able to accumulate a
surplus of money beyond their basic needs. This surplus gave them purchasing power
and, thus, created a primary requirement for the establishment of local capitalism, a

So, despite earlier attempts to establish manufacture in the south of the country -
attempts which failed largely because of the absence of a locally based market -
capitalism first gained a firm root in Ulster and was well established there before the
rest of the country emerged from the slough of feudalism.


As capitalism developed in Ulster, so did English resistance to the competition it
offered. The English capitalist class might share the exploitative and religious
aspirations of the emerging Ulster capitalist class, but they saw nothing wrong in
using their political influence to inhibit the commercial activities of their brethren in
Ulster. The response among a significant section of the latter was the demand for Irish
independence from England - thus setting the path that, for the same reason, would be
followed a hundred years later by the emerging 'Catholic' capitalist class of the South.
Then, as now, patriotism and loyalty were adjustable to the demands of good

The movement for Irish independence among the Protestant capitalists was by no
means a united one. Though it was generated by the embargoes and restraints imposed
by the London parliament on Irish trade and commerce, two distinct strands of
separatist thinking emerged. On the one hand, the Protestant landlords and a section of
the capitalist class were concerned that an English government that invoked economic
sanctions against them could not be trusted to preserve the Protestant Ascendancy -
the constitutional basis of Protestant political and economic power in Ireland. This
element saw in independence not only the ending of trade restraints but also the
guarantee of their political power to maintain the Ascendancy. On the other hand, a
sizeable proportion of northern Presbyterians - themselves often the victims of
English rule - were inspired by the French Revolution to opt for an Irish Republic
which would unite Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. It would sweep away English
rule and the Protestant Ascendancy and create in Ireland the conditions for the
development of a modern capitalist state.

Under the guiding influence of Wolfe Tone, a Dublin lawyer of Protestant parentage,
a society called the United Irishmen was established in Belfast in 1791 and soon
spread throughout the country. The claim of the new movement was to unite all
classes and creeds under a common banner, in a constitutional struggle for an Irish

The government permeated the new movement with spies and informers forcing it to
become a secret oathbound society which, in 1794, launched an abortive rebellion. In
the north, most of those who took up arms to fight for it were Protestants. Ironically, it
was a largely Catholic government force, the Monaghan Militia, which played a major
role in suppressing the northern insurgents with great violence - during and after the
short conflict. In the south-east of the country the dream of freedom was mainly the
desire of the peasants to throw off the yoke of brutally oppressive landlords - who
were mostly Protestants. The result was a vicious, seemingly sectarian, conflict
fraught with murder and atrocity.

Within the context of its historical period, the United Irishmen, if the movement had
succeeded, might well have removed the shadow of feudalism from Ireland and
created conditions in which the working class could have developed its own political
consciousness without the religious sectarianism that subsequently obstructed, and
continues to obstruct, its class unity. Instead, the crushing of the rebellion, together
with the naked sectarianism that had revealed itself in the south-east, sounded the
death knell of Protestant Republicanism. With hope gone in failure and brutal
reaction, the northern republicans receded into the mists of history while their
reactionary co-religionists satiated their anger in a fearful retribution.

The phase of Irish Protestant nationalism passed, its ideology overtaken by the ending
of the proscriptions on trade and commerce which had created its material base.
Henceforth, as the nineteenth century brought the emerging Catholic capitalist class of
the south to the realisation that its interests would be best served by Irish
independence, the northern economy was becoming increasingly Integrated with, and
dependent upon, a rapidly industrialising Britain.


In 1801 the impotent Irish Parliament, a purely Protestant body, was dissolved by the
British government and an Act of Union was imposed upon a people the majority of
whom were hardly conscious of any fundamental constitutional change.

On the lean back of the peasantry outside Ulster rested the whole weight of absolute
exploitation. The Penal Laws inhibited Catholic religious practice and were made
much of by the Catholic Church; but they were a mere irritant to the peasantry .The
denial of their bodily needs was far better policed and enforced than the denial of their
'spiritual' welfare. It was on the aspiring Catholic capitalist class that the Penal Laws
imposed real restrictions, for they prohibited its access to the more important offices
of state and administration, along with its entry into parliament and advancement
within the judiciary, and imposed limitations on its accumulation of wealth. And this
is why the Penal Laws became a burning issue in the Ireland of the first quarter of the
nineteenth century. Led by Daniel O'Connell, himself a landlord and vehement
opponent of the incipient Irish Trade Union movement, and abetted by a Catholic
hierarchy traditionally subservient to the 'divine rights of property', the movement for
Catholic Emancipation organised the peasantry on a massive scale. What really
beggared the peasantry - the vicious system of land ownership - did not become an
issue at all.

So it was that the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1823 opened the door
to greater wealth and privilege for the Catholic capitalist class but left intact the legal
structures from which flowed the miseries of the Catholic peasantry.


Following the granting of Catholic Emancipation, O'Connell turned to the question of
repealing the Act of Union. His weapon was, as it had been in the emancipation
struggle, the mass rally. Huge gatherings demonstrated the anger of the participants
and carried the threat of disorder if their demands were not speedily met. Now, as
before, the Catholic clergy were a ubiquitous presence. But, whereas in the days of the
struggle for Catholic rights liberal Protestants had been sympathetic and could
understand the Church's interest, now the fundamental constitutional change being
demanded could put the Protestants in the hands of a government which, given the
overwhelming Catholic majority in the country, could only be Catholic.

The scenario was one that played into the hands of those Protestant capitalists whose
economic interests were being increasingly best served by the continuance of the
Union. They had little difficulty in convincing the Protestant workers and farmers of
the north that the demand for Irish self-government was a Popish plot. The Repeal
movement suffered a massive defeat when the government called O'Connell's bluff
and banned a planned monster rally at Clontarf in 1843. O'Connell pleaded his
aversion to bloodshed and called off the rally.

By 1845 the country was in the throes of the Great Hunger which was to last for
some three years and reduce the population by almost thirty per cent. One and a
half million people died in the famine and a further million took the 'coffin ships'
to America and Britain. The famine was caused by the potato blight, but the one
and a half million deaths were purely and simply the sacrifice of the Irish poor
on the altar of capitalist Free Trade. Even as the wretched poor died of
starvation by the roadsides, beef and cereals sufficient to feed twice the number
of people in Ireland were being exported abroad for sale and profit.

Just as the Repeal movement and its association with the Catholic Church provided an
impetus for those who later organised the northern Protestants against Irish home rule,
so did the Great Famine create in Ireland and America a new dynamic for Irish
independence and one that would be fully exploited by the Catholic capitalist class
when independence became a necessary ingredient in its further economic


The progress of the nineteenth century saw first the Tenant Right League and then the
birth of Fenianism.

The Tenant Right League came into being in the late 1840s with the aim of
organising the peasantry and creating a cohesive opposition to landlordism in place of
the disorganised violence that had become an almost permanent feature of Irish life.
The League got little sympathy from the Irish Catholic hierarchy but it did attract
considerable support from the Protestant tenant farmers whose protection from the
rack-renting activities of their Protestant landlords had been steadily decreasing
despite the Ulster Custom. Its moving spirit was Gavin Duffy, a leader of the short-
lived Young Ireland movement which had unsuccessfully tried to organise a
rebellion in 1848. For a time the League became sufficiently powerful to worry the
government and the landed interest, particularly so because of its partial success in
uniting Protestant and Catholic small farmers and peasants in pursuit of a common
aim. But that unity was destroyed, and with it the power and influence of the League,
when some of the leaders became prominent in a Catholic Defence Association
(established to oppose the English Whigs' Ecclesiastical Titles Act, 1851, which made
it illegal for members of the Catholic clergy to take up the bishoprics of new sees then
being created by the Pope).

As the League died, the Fenians emerged. The Fenians, or Irish Republican
Brotherhood, were dedicated, in the tradition of Wolfe Tone and the United
Irishmen, to establishing an Irish Republic by force of arms. Their leader, James
Stephens, was a member of the International Workingmen's Association and the
movement was approved of by both Marx and the International. (Such support was, of
course, consistent with the view held by Marx that Irish independence was a
necessary precursor of working-class revolution in England. It must be said that Marx
was incorrect in this political conclusion -arrived at a time when, unlike now, the
economic conditions for the establishment of Socialism as defined by Marx did not
obtain. Regrettably there are those in Ireland and elsewhere today who would call
themselves socialists and communists and yet are fond of quoting the view expressed
by Marx in 1869 in support of Irish nationalism. But, like all other forms of
nationalism, this is wholly incompatible with the aim of worldwide Socialism as
expressed by Marx.)

The relatively sophisticated ideas of the Fenians, imported largely from America and
coloured by the political and economic philosophy of Louis Blanc, had little appeal to
the Irish peasantry at large. Denounced in the most vicious terms by the Catholic
Church, and defeated in a number of overly ambitious military adventures, the
movement - with many of its leaders in jailor on the run - lapsed into the twilight of
Irish political mythology. It was to surface again in 1916 as co-agent of the Easter

In its failure, it left the word 'Fenian' as a term of abuse to be used until now by Ulster
Protestants against Catholics. The fact that the Catholic Church had even less love for
the Fenians than the Fenians had for the Catholic Church is largely unknown among
Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics.


The first salvo of the Land War, as the agrarian-based struggle of the last quarter of
the nineteenth century became known, occurred in 1879 when a mass meeting was
summoned by a Home Rule member of parliament to oppose the threatened eviction
of tenants in County Mayo by a local priest who was also a landlord. The protest was
in keeping with the mood of the peasantry; it resulted in some 7,000 people coming
together to demonstrate their opposition to the effects of landlordism. It was a signal,
too, for Michael Davitt, an ex-Fenian who had earlier returned from imprisonment in
England, to join with others in organising the peasants in the Land League.

Davitt had been trying to get the Irish Home Rule Party, now a power in British
politics with 59 seats won in the elections of 1874, to make the land question a major
issue of policy; but the Home Rule Party was not opposed to the system of
landlordism in Ireland. With the death of its leader, Isaac Butt, however, Charles
Stewart Parnell became leader of the party. Although a landlord himself and a
magistrate, Parnell was a sufficiently shrewd and ambitious politician to realise that
refusal to support the peasantry would be political suicide. After some initial
hesitation he gave his considerable support to the cause of the Land League.

He supported an arrangement for 'fair rents' and the taking into account of the
fluctuating fortunes of tenants in the paying of arrears, but, inevitably, he was also led
by events to support resistance to eviction. He and his party had an uneasy
relationship, however, with the leadership of the Land League who had quickly
moved from the aim of 'fair rents' and security of tenure to a fundamental opposition
to the basic structure of land ownership.

The Land League developed a strategy of ostracism against landlords and their agents
who attempted to evict tenants. The first use of the weapon, in September 1880,
against a landlord’s agent called Captain Charles Boycott gave a synonym for
ostracism to the English language. Boycott had sent his bailiff with a police guard to
evict some of his master's tenants at Lough Mask in County Mayo. The tenants drove
off the eviction party and, two days later, Boycott's labourers and servants walked off
his estate and the local tradespeople refused to provide supplies or serve Boycott in
any way. Some time later, almost a thousand troops escorted into the area a group of
Orangemen from the north who had volunteered to save Boycott's crops. No one
opposed them; they were shunned by the local populace and after doing the work they
had come to do they returned unmolested. The peasants had found a formidable
weapon and one which, in general use, the government could not oppose. The
'boycott' was successful and the man whose infamy was thus immortalised left

The tenants achieved a remarkable solidarity in physically opposing evictions and
ensuring that no one of them gained from the eviction of another. But agrarian
violence increased and the country seemed on the verge of open revolt. One incident
in Tipperary resulted in thirty tenants being shot by the police. Death and violence
became a common occurrence in the south and west of the country.

The government passed a series of Coercion Acts to suppress the Land League and
the leaders of the movement were arrested and imprisoned. But the government was
forced to move on the land question and, in August 1881, Gladstone's Bill to
introduce the Three F's - fixity of tenure, fair rents and freedom of sale - became law.
The new Act was too full of loopholes and legal complexities to afford the peasantry
the protection they needed, but it did provide considerable amelioration of their
condition, and their unity and solidarity blunted the edge of landlord reaction. It was
the beginning of a settlement of the age-old land question which had formed the basis
of conflict in Ireland.

Subsequently the government introduced a series of Land Purchase Acts between
1885 and 1903 which made available public loans for the peasantry to buyout their
holdings. Repayment, with interest, was to be made by fixed annuities. The worthless
landowning class, financially emasculated by their traditional thriftless extravagance
and the more recent resistance of their tenants, offered a token opposition but were, in
most cases, glad to salvage a final settlement from their ill-gotten plunder.

With the land question largely settled, Ireland entered fully into the new age of
modern capitalism. But the ghost of the land question hung grimly over its future. The
north-east of the country, with its Protestant capitalist class, was already a centre of
highly industrialised capitalist enterprise; the south, with its nascent Catholic capitalist
class, was still in the birth pangs of industrial development. It was the land question,
more than any other single issue, that had given rise to this uneven development of
capitalism in Ireland; and it was out of the land question that the religious fictions and
bigotries had come.

By the time the southern capitalists found the strength and influence of political
assertiveness, the friction between the Ulster capitalist class and its English
counterpart had largely passed. Ulster was virtually integrated into the British
economy, dependent on its economic link with Britain for much of its raw materials
and its market - not only on the British mainland but, under the system of Imperial
Preference, throughout the colonies. There was no talk now of independence: Ulster
was soundly British! This was the patriotism of the northern capitalists; and their
pensioned political hacks would rummage the cesspits of religious bigotry and hatred
to ensure that the working class got the message.

3. Partition and the consequences
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the southern capitalists and the Irish
Nationalist Party were becoming increasingly voluble about 'English and other foreign
capitalists squeezing out the home manufacturer and producer' - an emotive
distinction between the 'foreign' and home-based exploiters, despite the fact that the
latter, due to their fledgling status, were, if anything, even more rapacious than the
In 1905, Sinn Fein was established by Arthur Griffith (who rarely concealed his
contempt for the working class and their organisations) and other representatives of
native capitalism. Sinn Fein was a dynamic, burgeoning force that made no secret of
the fact that it sought, if necessary by non-parliamentary means, the right to establish
an Irish parliament with legislative power to create such trade protection as was
required by a struggling capitalist class, to develop its trade and industry.

The published policies of Sinn Fein and the speeches and writings of its leaders
openly showed Sinn Fein's real area of concern. Of course there was all the usual
patriotic rubbish about 'freedom' and the subsequent 1916 Proclamation of the Irish
Republic claimed that the new Republic, for which working people were being asked
to fight and die, would place the land and resources of Ireland in the hands of the Irish
people. A year later Sinn Fein's policy statement made it clear that the 'Irish people'
who would benefit from their ownership of Ireland would be the Irish capitalists. The
rhetoric, the feigned concern for 'the people', the patriotism of the advocates of blood
sacrifice was all good stuff for the ideological consumption of the workers, who
would be called upon to make the sacrifices; but the political architects of the new
Republic were planning for capitalism and, indeed, capitalism was the only master
they could serve.

The result of independence for the south was that the small farmer and the wage
worker, through high prices due to inefficient home production and tariffs on
imported goods, subsidised the development of the native capitalists' fledgling
enterprises; and a native government took legislative action to curb the response of
organised labour.

No one making a dispassionate assessment of the situation that resulted in the
establishment of two separate states in Ireland in 1922 can escape the conclusion
that the primary cause of conflict was the imbalance of economic development
between the north and south. The struggle was about the political needs of the
capitalist class in Ireland, and that class, and its political representatives, were
willing to sacrifice the lives of the working class, in the north and in the south, in
defence of a system that offered the working class, as a whole, only the
continuation of its poverty.


The Ulster Unionists - whose traditional contempt for the working class even Ian
Paisley now plays for advantage in his power struggle with the Official Unionist Party
- gathered an illegal army in 1912 called the Ulster Volunteer Force, played with
treason and were willing to ride roughshod through their beloved 'law and order' in
order to achieve their political ends. The southern nationalists also gathered an army,
the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and waged war in pursuit of their political ends.
Neither side was concerned with social change; the flag-waving, the slogans, the
killings were not even publicly related by the leaders of either faction to working-
class conditions. What was at stake were the political interests of a divided capitalist

And as we have seen, history has provided the capitalist and their political
representatives with the means of disguising from the working class the true nature of
the conflict. The south was overwhelmingly Catholic, the north mainly Protestant.
The northern politicians swept the gutters of history and recruited the holy men of the
Church and the Orange Order to whip up a vicious reaction to the threat of Home
Rule. Their southern counterparts used the same tactics to infuse a vicious anti-
working-class patriotism. The legend makers and the liars were at work; money and
effort were both available to imbue the working class with hatred, bigotry and
patriotic rubbish and, sadly, the putrid concoction was to last until the present - to
inflict its miseries on a divided working class and, ironically, to disturb the sensitive
political nostrils of the heirs of the class that introduced it on to the political scene.

By the 1960s, the factors which divided the capitalist class had changed. Capitalism in
the south had developed to the point where trade protection was being counter-
productive and the new economic strategy was concerned with attracting foreign
investment. In the north, the traditional industries were in decline and the Unionist
government too was fighting vigorously to attract foreign capital. A new economic
pattern was appearing in both states, involving multinational firms which, as often as
not, operated on both sides of the Border. There was a growing interchange of capital
and personnel and both states stood on the threshold of the profitable commercial
markets of the European Economic Community.

The old bigotries were no longer required; the capitalist priorities that had dictated
their use had changed. There was to be a new era of 'bridge-building' and
'reconciliation'. Unfortunately, however, the poison had been injected deep into the
veins of the working class, and its political toxicity had been boosted at every election
and every economic crisis. The warnings, the fears, the naked hatred nurtured over
decades by businessmen, politicians, churchmen and even judges, could not be so
easily wafted away. In the north, the Unionist Prime Minister tried to accommodate
the new mood of capitalism with a tentative policy of political reform and
reconciliation. But the echo of yesterday's hate chants still rung in the ears of the mass
of his followers; nothing had happened in the avenues of slumdom to assuage the
hatred and bigotry that had been deliberately infused into the mass of the working
class. Nor was there a shortage of aspiring politicians willing to capitalise on the new
situation and snap up the mantle of bitterness being hesitantly abandoned by the
Government party. Ian Paisley, a hot-gospeller on the lunatic fringe of Protestant
Unionism, emerged as the strong man and had little difficulty in building a substantial
alternative Unionist party on the ignorance of the most oppressed section of Unionist
supporters. Such was the measure of his success that the Official Unionists jettisoned
their new 'liberalism' and returned into their earlier intransigence and bigotry.

4 Civil rights and political violence
Events had not stood still on the Nationalist/Catholic side. Before the advent of
British 'Welfare' capitalism in 1945, a Catholic youth from the working class faced an
even bleaker employment future than his or her Protestant opposite number.
Politicians, businessmen, clergymen and members of the judiciary had been
remarkably candid in indicating to the employers that they should not employ
Catholics. The purpose of the ploy was twofold: it ensured that the higher birthrate
among the Catholics would not ultimately affect Unionist electoral fortunes because
doleless unemployment would force them to emigrate; and, equally important, it
reinforced the absolute fiction that Unionism served the interests of working-class

The post-war period of 'welfare' capitalism altered the balance to some extent. Family
Allowances and welfare supplements offered Catholic teenagers an alternative to
unemployment and emigration; they could remain at school and, perhaps, become
better equipped for wage slavery. It may have been the more socially aware elements
among the Catholics who took this course, but their numbers were significant enough
to affect events in two respects.
The first of these was that, by the sixties, a peripheral change had taken place in the
employment prospects of many Catholics. The traditional indigenous industries were
in decline and the Unionist government's policy of attracting foreign investment was
having some effect. The Unionists were anxious to direct the bulk of new industry
into those areas that would reflect the traditional imbalance in employment between
Catholics and Protestants; but, wherever they were, the new multinational
undertakings were less likely to be concerned with a job applicant's religion than they
were with his or her education, and there were now a significant number of Catholics
able to compete in these areas. Enough were successful to heighten Protestant fears
and bring a new degree of confidence and expectation to the Catholic community.
This was, in turn, reflected in a partial breakdown of the traditional segregated
housing pattern; there was considerable movement away from the old religious

The second feature, which interacted with the first, was that the Catholics were
becoming more politically articulate, less inclined to continue in the role of protesting
martyrs withdrawn from the mainstreams of life in Unionist Ulster, and enmeshed in
the futile dream of salvation in a United Ireland. Now they were showing a greater
willingness to participate at all levels of society. But, if they were to participate, they
would only do so on an equal basis with the Protestants.

For the Catholic capitalists, this equality was seen in terms of easier access to the
richer pickings of the profit system; their vision was a more equitable sharing of the
spoils, in profits, positions, power and privilege, with their Protestant class brethren.
For working-class Catholics, 'equality' was necessarily limited to the vision of a
council house or job - to equality with the Protestant poor in the struggle for a more
tolerable existence at the low end of living.


The growing demands for these different standards of 'equality' coalesced in the birth
of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association which, in turn, gave a fillip to the
new forces of Unionist extremism headed by Paisley. The Unionist government of
Prime Minister O'Neill was caught in the middle; the government would not now in
any way be undermining the priorities of capitalism by conceding the demands of the
Civil Rights movement. The British Government, embarrassed abroad by the
anachronistic survival of religious intolerance in the Ulster part of the United
Kingdom, was applying some pressure for reform, and there was prosperity enough
for the Protestant capitalists to allow their Catholic opposite numbers a more generous
entry into the club. Bigotry and intolerance were no longer required, and if some
peripheral swapping of its mean favours among the working class would placate the
Civil Rights people, then the government was open to change. But they still had to
consider the threatened loyalist backlash to such a course and, with Paisley yapping at
their heels, the loss of their working-class power base.

The demands of the Civil Rights movement amounted to no more than an insistence
that the miseries of capitalism - its inadequacies in housing, jobs and education - be
distributed among the working class without regard to their religion - as if other
factors bearing on selection and rejection for these things were not also
discriminatory. They saw the problem in religious and not class terms; the enemy as
Unionism and not capitalism. The Catholics were seen as 'second-class citizens' rather
than as members of the working class. The argument was about who would get the
crumbs from capitalism, because the people who made up the Civil Rights movement
had no conception of the system which produces profit - or the alternative to this

In fact, the reformist fervour of the Civil Rights movement was reactionary. Because
of its inability to analyse the situation in class terms, it inevitably became more and
more identified as the campaigning arm of Catholicism; it became the fuse in the
bomb of Unionism and, when that bomb exploded, it was the working class,
irrespective of religious association, who were its victims.

The leaders of the various shades of Unionism, the new leaders of Catholic
nationalism, and the other offshoots of the Civil Rights days, often reaped
reasonable rewards from the artificially created positions established by the
British government to demonstrate its non-discriminatory intent. In the grass
roots, the workers faced one another across the barricades; frustrated, cheated
and confused, they became the pawns of paramilitarism, the candidates for the
jails and the graveyards. The politicians, the churches' spokesmen, the business
community, the entire host of those elements who had played midwife to violence
would jostle one another in the queue to condemn 'mindless violence'; and heap
scorn and condemnation on the sad, pathetic figures foolish enough to believe
that the colour of the rag at the masthead had some bearing on their poverty.


Since the mid-sixties, the Irish border and the factors that gave rise to it have become
largely irrelevant to the capitalist class of Ireland, north and south. They used it to
promote their political interests by dividing the working class. But they now share a
more or less united approach to their class problems. They pursue common ambitions
in relation to questions like energy, tourism and political and economic co-operation.
They deplore the current political violence, as it imposes strains on their revenue and
inhibits the flow of investment from abroad. In the south, there is even a fevered
attempt to rewrite history in a way that will distance the bloodshed of the Home Rule
movement from that of the current violence.

The interests of the British ruling class have visibly shifted too. The Republic is now a
safe haven for British capital - safely policed and nurtured by the Irish state; and the
Republic is the third largest importer of British goods. On the strategic front, Ireland
is covertly coming closer to NATO; and a satisfactory resolution of the Irish question
would remove the last barrier to full and open membership of the Western Alliance.
All in all, apart from the hiccup in relations at the time of the Falklands violence,
Britain and the Republic are good capitalist neighbours, equally embarrassed by the
ongoing violence in Northern Ireland which occasionally spills over into each other's
territory and which, in a period of recession, bites deeply into taxation.

The politics of Unionism and Republicanism have become meaningless in terms of
the interests of the now largely unified capitalist class; and, certainly, neither
Unionism nor Republicanism - despite the latter's flirting with the vocabulary of
Socialism - have anything to offer the working class. It is because Unionism, the
Border and Ulster are no more than a source of irritation to capitalism - the issues
involved having no logic in class terms - that more effective moves for a solution of
the Northern Ireland problem have not emerged.

The violence and bitterness defeat solution because they are the weapons in a war
over fictions; groundless, baseless lies, mythology and half-truths created to serve the
erstwhile divided interests of the ruling class. Now that ruling class, in its unity,
despairs at the earlier success of its efforts in creating a violent politico-religious
tribalism. Ireland since 1970 has reflected this despair. The British government's
'power sharing' experiment of 1974 failed; and the more recent attempts to create
'rolling devolution' by an elected Stormont Assembly will fail too.


In the competitive jungle of capitalism, violence can, and often does, achieve political
results. That is why nation states maintain armed forces and spend staggering amounts
of wealth on providing them with the most devastating means of killing their fellow
human beings. These armed forces exist to preserve the nation's interests and,
frequently, that preservation requires armed action against other nations.

Class society was founded on violence; and the competition that capitalism generates
creates the material conditions for permanent ongoing violence and conflict. The state
of permanent war and preparation for war - and there is war going on somewhere in
the world every day - as well as crime and racial and religious violence, arise from the
fact that we live in a society with a built-in requirement for competition and conflict.
'Expand or bust!' may be more diplomatically expressed in the advice given to the
young executive that a viable business cannot stand still; if it is to remain viable it
must go forward. Expressed either way, it acknowledges the fact that capitalism, with
its competition, its lust for markets and raw materials, and its imperative for political
conditions that will facilitate its plunder of the working class, is a system which
inevitably causes war.

It is the working class who are mustered to fight the wars. In 1912 it was the working
class in Ulster - or that section of it that could be emotionally appealed to as
'Protestants' - who were urged and intimidated to form themselves into the battalions
of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Not in order to remove working-class poverty or even a
particular feature of that poverty, but in order to ensure that the class that lived well
on the fruits of their exploitation continued to enjoy a political association that gave
them access to British and colonial markets. Similarly in the south, between 1916 and
1922, it was the working class who were organised into the IRA by their exploiters to
fight for 'the cause of Ireland' - an Ireland in which wealth was owned and controlled
by a bunch of plunderers whose cause was the extension of its wealth and privilege.

In a world of H-bombs, cluster bombs, gas and germ weapons, a world where,
amid potential abundance, 30 million human beings die annually from hunger, it
is the sheerest hypocrisy for those who support the present way of life,
capitalism, to denounce political terrorism. The terrorists get their rules and
their weapons from capitalism. The numbers of their victims are only a small
fraction of the numbers of innocent victims of capitalism in 'peace' or war.
Socialists totally repudiate political violence. Just as the murder and brutality of
capitalism generally must be condemned, so must the murderous and brutal
activities of both the Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries. Their assaults are
on the working class, whose interests they can never represent - indeed they no
longer even represent the interests of capitalism as they did in the past.

The working class has no country .The national state is the product of class society
and all forms of nationalism are inimical to the interests of the working class. All that
workers possess is their mental and physical ability to work and the degree of real
poverty or mere want they endure is determined by whether they can find a market for
that ability, and the terms under which they sell it.

Events elsewhere in the system of world capitalism are often more relevant to the
situation of the worker in any particular country than changes of government in the
country where he or she resides. Behind the flag- waving and the emotional claptrap,
this is acknowledged when governments offer the excuse of 'world conditions' -the
conditions of world capitalism -for the failure of their policies, as do, for example the
British labour and Tory parties and the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael/Labour coalition
governments. With one voice, they eschew responsibility for mass unemployment,
and acknowledge the irrelevance of national governments in determining the trends of
a world system based on the anarchy of a wages-money-marketing scheme.

5 Socialism

Just as capitalism is a world system, so must the alternative to it be a world
system. In capitalism the means of living are owned and controlled directly or
through the medium of companies, corporations or the state, by a minority class,
and function solely for the purpose of enriching that class and protecting its
ownership. In Socialism the entire means of producing and distributing wealth
will be owned and controlled in common by the whole of society, and will
function solely for the purpose of satisfying the needs of humanity.

Since all will be owners of the productive processes and the resources of the world,
and all will freely participate in the production of all the things the human family
requires, so all will have free and equal access to their needs. There will be no
requirement for a market or the use of money as a measurement of wealth or means of

The appalling waste and destruction of capitalism will disappear. There will not be a
need for armed forces or millions of people to spend their working lives producing the
instruments of death and destruction. There will be no need for the vast armies of
people who service capitalism's market economy in banks, finance and insurance
palaces, in shops and stores; no need for armies of salesmen chasing one another
around the blocks or for ad-men or the mass of people in the 'social' services doling
out rations of money and crumbs of comfort.

Certainly there will be no shortage of people to do the work in Socialism, and, unlike
now when computer and robot technology threatens the mean security of a worker's
wage packet, the application and development of technology will simply ease the
general burden of producing and distributing society's goods.


The priest and the parson will tell you that such a scheme of things is against what
they call 'human nature'. According to this theory, 'God' created us as a weak species
without the co-operative instincts of many lower forms of life and, as a result of our
weakness, greed and envy - our 'human nature', - we could not have a society based on
human co- operation.

The theory is not very flattering to 'God', but it has always won the approval of ruling
classes and they have not been slow in encouraging the priests and parsons in their
work of convincing the great mass of 'have-nots' in society - the people who produce
all wealth and own virtually none - that their condition is the result of their greed and
weakness, and that these defects put the idea of a sane society based on harmony and
co-operation beyond their reach. We do not have to look far to discern the reason for
the invention and promotion of this quite untenable theory.

The success of homo sapiens as a species is found in its ability to co-operate in
overcoming the obstacles presented by nature, and there is an abundance of evidence
to show human beings living co-operatively and harmoniously in a condition of social
equality before the advent of a society based on class ownership of its means of
wealth production.

What we call 'fresh air' is the most essential prerequisite of human existence, but no
one complains about another's respiratory consumption of it and no one attempts to
hoard it. In most urban communities there is easy access to the second most important
requirement of human life, clean water. As long as it flows freely, people avail
themselves of it rationally and do not fight over it or hoard it.

People who have consciously opted for Socialism would not be compelled by their
nature to hoard, steal and kill. In a world of socialist co-operation, men and women
will give according to their abilities and take according to their needs.

The vision of a world without poverty, without slums and unemployment, without
crime, racism and war, without the starvation, degradation and alienation of most of
the people on our planet almost defies the imagination. The insanities of capitalism
have become a way of life to us; we can immediately see the absurdity of starvation in
a world of potential plenty, the absurdity of collecting charity for research into
diseases while devoting multibillions to research into more sophisticated methods of
dispensing death. These, and the other myriad contradictions of capitalism, make it a
system that is incapable of being rationally defended and yet, because we have been
conditioned into believing that this is all life has to offer, our initial reaction to the
idea of Socialism is incredulity. And, when that incredulity is analysed, it usually
boils down to the objection that, while Socialism is a highly desirable condition of
life, it is not feasible because others, not ourselves, would be unable to co-operate to
bring it about or make it work.

Given the death and destruction that capitalism now causes and the vastly greater
destruction that it holds in readiness, can any rational human being argue that
Socialism, the only alternative to capitalism, is not worthy of examination and effort?


It is true that there are many groups, organisations and political par1ies that use the
word 'Socialism' to describe their policies or ultimate aspirations. But only rarely do
they define what they mean by Socialism and, when they do, they use the term to
enlist the support of workers for some scheme which they hope will improve
capitalism by removing one or more of its grosser features. We do not need to go into
political or economic theory to demonstrate the fallacy of thinking that the problems
caused by capitalism can be eradicated while the system itself is left intact - that an
effect can be removed without its cause. The fallacy of such reasoning is amply
demonstrated in the number of Labour, Social Democratic and 'Communist' parties
that have presided in government, and continue to preside, futilely grappling with the
same old problems and legislating for the continuation of those problems and not their
The first thing we should notice when we consider how society will be changed is that
capitalism does not exist simply because the capitalist class wishes it to. On the
contrary, it is the great mass of capitalism's victims, the working class, who allow it to
exist. Not only do they run the system from top to bottom, producing its wealth and
policing their own robbery but, because they have no knowledge of any practical
alternative to capitalism, they vote for political parties and leaders committed to its
continuation. Capitalism simply could not continue to function without the support,
active and passive, of the working class.

We cannot overemphasise this point for it demonstrates not only the path forward to
Socialism but the lunacy of those who preach violence or opportunism as a means of
overthrowing the system. Those advocating political violence or subterfuge are in
practice saying that they will force or deceive the workers into Socialism. But this is
impossible, as Socialism is a system of free and voluntary co-operation dependent for
its success on the precondition of the majority consciously opting for it in the full
knowledge of the implications of such a form of society.

There are two classes under capitalism: a majority non-owning class who produce all
the wealth; and a minority capitalist class who monopolise the resources of the earth
and have the legal right to appropriate rent, interest and profit as a result of the
exploitation of the wealth-producers. It is worth emphasising the legality of capitalism
because it illustrates the point that it is the state machine, with its legislative
processes, its judiciary, its police forces and, ultimately, its armed forces, which
endows the capitalist class with the right, the authority and, if required, the coercive
capacity to carry out its exploitative function. The role of the state as the force behind
the private or corporate ownership of wealth production and distribution or, in starker
terms, the state's role in excluding the great majority of human beings from ownership
and control of their means of living - to the point where they often perish from
starvation in the rich, or potentially rich, lands of their birth - is one that has to be
concealed, mystified and generally obscured from the working class. The law, with its
judges, policemen and soldiers, must be made to appear as the guarantor of the just to
sleep peacefully in their beds and enjoy their freedom; in fact the law that enshrines
the right of capitalist ownership denies millions a bed to sleep in and keeps the great
majority of people in the position of wage slaves.

It is the task of the World Socialist Movement to combat the political ignorance on
which the foundations of capitalism rest. It is the task of Socialists to show that
capitalism, with its market economy, its wages and money system, its anarchy of
production and appalling destruction of the earth's resources, can only hold the
promise of poverty, unemployment, war and all the other evils which are an
undeniable and permanent result of that system.

It is the task of the World Socialist Movement to expose the fallacy spread by
Labour and 'Communist' parties, and the myriad disaffected offshoots of such
organisations, that they can run capitalism in such a way as will alleviate or eliminate
its problems. Those problems originate in capitalism; they are an inevitable
consequence of capitalism; and the idea of political reformers trying to run a system
based on the exploitation of the working class in the interests of the working class is
laughable in theory and tragic in fact.

And it is the task of the World Socialist Movement to show that a wageless,
classless, moneyless world, in which the resources of the earth are owned and
controlled in common by all and used to satisfy the needs of all, is a practical and
pressing alternative to the miseries of capitalism.


In many parts of the world, workers are afforded the opportunity from time to time to
vote for the type of society they want. Up to the present they have used that vote to
determine the political complexion of the party or personnel they wish to administer
capitalism. With Socialist understanding and Socialist organisation they can use the
vote as an instrument of social revolution - to elect Socialist delegates mandated to
abolish capitalism: to end government over people and establish the democratic
administration of things.

It is a monumental task, one that strains the imagination and credulity of many who
see the need to replace the poverty and cruelty of capitalism with Socialism. It seems
an impossibly daunting task for a small Socialist movement to acquire the strength to
offer a serious challenge to the mammoth organisations that defend and promote
capitalism. But the Socialist movement is only part of our strength. The rest of that
strength is in capitalism itself; capitalism proving by its own anarchy and caprice that
it is a system not fit for human beings. The evidence grows more abundant every day.


The short answer to that question is that, if Socialism existed, the present situation in
Ireland would not and could not exist.

When we look at the impotence of all the political par1ies and reformers in Ireland
today and at the bankruptcy of the slogans behind the gunmen, legal and otherwise,
we can only be impressed with the urgent necessity of Socialism.

The working class in Ireland, like workers elsewhere throughout the world, can
waste their time supporting parties that openly stand for capitalism; they can
delude themselves into believing that there is a half way house between
capitalism and Socialism; or they can bury their heads in the sand and say they
are not interested in politics, even though 'politics' is interested in them and
condones their exploitation and impoverishment.

Alternatively they can study the case for Socialism and help to build a strong
Socialist movement motivated solely by the desire to achieve World Socialism.
How that movement will progress and when Socialism will be achieved will be
important questions which they will then be helping to resolve. More
immediately relevant than these questions, however, is the fact that, if they were
pursuing any other political course, they are wasting their time.